‘I want an experienced head on young shoulders’: Raffi Quirke recalls fact-finding trip to Australia
Raffi Quirke is 21, turning 35. He’s a young player who already thinks and acts like a senior pro – even a coach. His fact-finding mission to Australia will become a template for others to copy.
Sale’s rookie scrum-half was immediately brought back to the England squad after six months out with a hamstring injury.
But Quirke wasn’t satisfied with the arduous rehabilitation process, also wanting to seize a rare opportunity to broaden his horizons, so organized a solo trip Down Under, to learn from some of the world’s leading rugby league teams and players.
Raffi Quirke (pictured) scored on his England debut against South Africa last season
Quirke has been out with an injury this season and went on a fact-finding mission to Australia
Before telling Sportsmail about his groundbreaking venture, there was a glimpse of what he took home.
After finishing practice with his club, Quirke sat alone on the field at AJ Bell Stadium for five minutes of quiet contemplation. Visualization is now part of his personal routine.
When he was ready to speak, he said, “I want an experienced head on young shoulders.”
Well, Quirke is definitely heading in the right direction with that.
Explaining how it came about, he said: “Sale’s coaches said, ‘You’re going to be away for a long time, so you have to experience a different environment.’
‘Funnily enough, the day before, I had had exactly the same conversation with my father at home. The coaches asked if I had any ideas and I like watching the NRL (Australian Rugby League), so I said so.
The Sale scrum half spent time shadowing NRL sides like the Sydney Roosters
He hopes to use the knowledge he has gained from these clubs to become a better player
“They weren’t sure I could do that because it’s on the other side of the world. I said I’d organize it, if they just said I could. I just needed them to say ‘yes’.
“So I organized it with the help of Anthony Seibold, the England defense coach, who has coached in the NRL.
“He gave me a few contacts and arranged the days that I would be in training. I was there alone for three weeks.
“I went to Cronulla Sharks, Newcastle Knights, St George Illawarra Dragons, Penrith Panthers and Sydney Roosters.
‘I went to all those clubs for a day, on their most important training days, then I was with the Roosters for a week and a half.
Quirke underwent surgery for a hamstring tear and missed last season’s back-end
“I did some of my rehab there at local gyms and also at the Roosters facilities, with their physios and strength and conditioning coaches.
“I came at the start of the day, watching each meeting, watching them train and taking notes.
“It was about seeing what I could add to my game and what I could bring back to add to the sale. That was my plan and I got a lot of little nuggets out of it.’
Quirke was able to deal with the greats of the 13-man code and jumped at every opportunity to ask for advice.
The host clubs, players and coaches were happy to help their English guest.
He has now returned to the England set-up for the Autumn Nations after a six-month absence
Quirke spoke to Roosters legend Cooper Cronk (pictured) about handling pressure
“The best players ever – the ‘Immortals’ as they call them – still work with clubs on certain days,” he said. “So Cooper Cronk was with the Roosters and I got to sit down with him and talk about handling pressure. He told me about his preparation during the week.
‘I wanted to see that. How their best players analyze other teams, talk to their coaches and what they do on a particular day of the week, in terms of their perks. Now that I’m back, I’m trying to go through some of the same processes.
‘I was introduced to the clubs by the head coaches. If I was with certain coaches or players, I would ask them questions.
‘After the sessions when boys did extras, I took them along for a chat. While I was at the Roosters, I went out to dinner with some guys and one of them invited me to dinner with him and his wife and kids.
“Everyone was so welcoming and I really felt part of every team when I was there. I thought they would take a Pom away if they went there but I was treated very well. It was amazing.’
The young scrum half said he was made to feel very welcome by everyone Down Under
There was some down time Down Under, but Quirke couldn’t surf at Bondi Beach for fear of aggravating the hamstring while healing.
However, he has discovered a new aquatic activity closer to home after joining Sale’s new recruit, Tom O’Flaherty, in spearfishing in North Wales. “I haven’t caught anything yet,” he admitted.
Quirke returned to action for Sale earlier this month and was recalled by England head coach Eddie Jones after two successful appearances for his club.
He has a shot at a part in matchday 23 against Argentina on Sunday and has a chance to establish himself as the best scrum half in the country.
He is now available and could play in England’s game against Argentina on Saturday
Last November, his scorching attempt against South Africa sealed England’s victory over the world champions and Quirke has used that early career peak as inspiration ever since.
“I watch it before every game,” he said. “I have little highlights that I watch for my confidence.
‘I want to be there; play for England. There I was and there I want to be again.’